Distortion in human subjects with LF camera

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by Don Wallace, Aug 31, 2009.

  1. Don Wallace

    Don Wallace Member

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    I am using an 8x10 camera with a 14 inch lens and I am having real problems with the shape of the subject and the relative proportions of different parts of the body. Normally, I can accept a little bit of distortion with regard to perspective, but with people, the distortion is obvious and just not right. I have two basic questions.


    1) When photographing a standing subject, what should the height of the camera be in relation to the subject?

    2) I have attached a crude drawing of a set up I tried recently which just did not work. My subject was seated on the top step of a porch with the camera at about the same height as the subject (left side of drawing). On the right hand side of the drawing I have shown the plane of the subject relative to the camera, from above. As you can see, the camera was at an angle to the subject and this resulted in a lot of distortion. On the glass, the feet were HUGE in comparison to the head. I fiddled with the front and back movements, but just couldn't get it to work. Would the correct adjustment have been to put both the front and back standards parallel to the subject?

    Does anyone know of any good sources which deal the movements involved in photographing subjects full length?
     

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  2. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    In this case rear swing would have been used to correct the perspective, with the front to compensate focus. Perspective is controlled at the back by altering the relationship of the film plane to the image projected on it. If you move the part of the ground glass with the feet away, they will get smaller. The best thing to do is set up a box and play.

    In general in regard to "standard" portraiture, the camera lens should be at eye level. Just below for a more dominating pose, just above for more submissive. Of course rules are made to be broken.
     
  3. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    It would be helpful, if you could post a scan of the photo.

    That said, generally one uses rear tilt and swing to correct distortion and front tilt and swing to control the plane of focus, so if the subject's feet's too big, as Fats Waller was known to have said, one option would be to use rear tilt and maybe swing depending on the subject's orientation to the film plane to correct the proportions of the feet to the head, then apply front tilt/swing to get things in focus.

    It could also be that the camera is too low. You could try for a higher camera position and then use front fall/rear rise to recompose.

    Sometimes you just need to move the camera or pose the subject differently.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=in1eK3x1PBI
     
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  4. Don Wallace

    Don Wallace Member

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    Jason, does the eye level rule apply to a full length subject, standing?

    David, I would post the photo but as Fats said, her feets was too big, so I didn't shoot it. I didn't want to waste a sheet of 8x10 and more importantly, I didn't want to embarrass her.

    I have some experience with using rear movements to correct distortion but this one was difficult. People are a different ball game, aren't they? If one part of a building isn't quite right, it can just look ... dramatic. But when her feets too big... that's no good.

    Tomorrow, I am going to set up the camera and try the same thing, but this time I will put objects of the same size along the same plane and practise on them rather than on a human subject who had every right to get annoyed and impatient with all my screwing around.

    ...and my personal fave:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWViLtPQMzo&feature=fvw
     
  5. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    I would think you would need to be farther from your subject. So, if you are filling the frame, a 14" lens is way too short.
     
  6. Mike1234

    Mike1234 Inactive

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    A good rule of thumb for lens focal length with portraits... full body (standing) use normal FL... waist up use 1.5x normal FL... head/shoulders use 2x... tight head shots use 3x. There are exceptions and pose affects choice.
     
  7. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    I'll just say ditto to what Jason said. Eye level is what I aim for, for a neutral looking perspective... this is the height at which we most comfortably encounter another person, so it is usually a good starting point.

    Having said that, if you look through magazines, I think you will find that males are often photographed from well below the eye level (I guess to give a more dominant, downward looking posture); whereas females are often photographed from above that neutral level (I guess to give a more entreating, upward looking posture). Just something curious that I've noticed in commercial photography.

    I also agree that having more distance from the subject and using a longer focal length are things you must try.
     
  8. Don Wallace

    Don Wallace Member

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    mike, I am not sure that makes sense with 8x10. If a normal lens for 8x10 is 300mm, then for tight head shots I would have to use a 900mm lens. I would need more bellows than any camera I have ever owned and probably an assistant to hold up the front end!!!

    Do folks really use 900 mm lenses for portraits? Am I missing something here?
     
  9. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Other reasons for that can be that shooting from above makes the head look flatteringly larger, conceals any neck flabbiness, and avoids the sometimes unattractive up-the-nostrils view (why waist level finders are a bad idea for, say, wedding photographers).
     
  10. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    14" is fairly normal for portraits on 8x10". Worked for Karsh.
     
  11. Mike1234

    Mike1234 Inactive

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    Don,

    You're right but few people ever shoot tight head shots on 8x10. If they do they either work around the distortion or crop the film a bit. AS others said it's shooting too close to the subject that causes perspective distortion.
     
  12. Mike1234

    Mike1234 Inactive

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    Yes, but look at his H/S shots. Though lighting and pose are brilliant many possess perspective distortion. Not to impugn a master, of course, but it's true.
     
  13. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    You might ask "What would George do?"

    He might just cut off the feet--

    Jane Russell-- http://www.soulcatcherstudio.com/images/hurrell/HURREL_russel.jpg

    Sherillyn Fenn-- http://www.photoinduced.com/wp-content/photos/sherilynfennbig.GIF

    Self portrait with Robert Montgomery-- http://media.photobucket.com/image/hurrell/ladyinlake/bob/hurrell-bob-1931.jpg

    Or he might be very careful about positioning and modeling the feet and putting them at the edge of the image circle where they'll be darker and a little blurred and generally less prominent (and still amputate one of them)--

    Norma Shearer-- http://www.divasthesite.com/images/Norma_Shearer/George_Hurrell/Norma_Shearer_George_Hurrell_030.jpg
     
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  15. Mike1234

    Mike1234 Inactive

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    If it's really the size of the feet that bother you then minimize their appearance with careful posing. Point them mostly toward the camera. This hides their massive size. :smile: It's really no diffeent than pointing a prominent nose directly at the lens giving the apperance that it's shorter. Again though, if the lens is too wide (if you're shooting too close to the subject) you're just making things very difficult for yourself. Move back a bit and crop if you must. :smile:
     
  16. Don Wallace

    Don Wallace Member

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    David, the Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa (where I live) has a Karsh exhibit running until mid-September. It may go on tour after that. While there are lots of photographs on display, the exhibit also shows the technology behind them. A lot of his personal equipment is on display - enlarger, cameras, darkroom tools, etc. On both of his huge and weighty Calumet 8x10's is a 14 inch Commercial Ektar (same lens I have - now I have no excuses).
     
  17. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    stepping back would make her feets less bigs,
    close crop will distort them more than letting
    your subject breathe a little bit in the frame ...

    hiding them in hay or off camera works well too,
    but it might look kind of strange ... and fred astaire would not be happy.
     
  18. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    In fact B&H sells hay just for that purpose. All the New York studios have it.
     
  19. Don Wallace

    Don Wallace Member

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    Mike, let me make it clear that she doesn't have big feet. That is my fault. If a woman doesn't have big feet and you give her a pair in a photograph, you are just asking for trouble.:tongue:

    I was resistant to your idea of moving back because one of my favourite people photographers, Sturges, used an even shorter lens (250mm) and he filled the frame. Or so I thought. I checked a few books to prove you wrong, and dammitall, you are right. He does get back some. I found two photos where he does get pretty close and guess what, the feet are huge. I mean HUGE. See "The Last Days of Summer" page 39 and especially page 55.

    I didn't have the time today, but I am going to try the same pose tomorrow with inanimate objects that have unlimited patience and see what I can do with some of the movements you have suggested, as well as backing off some.

    David, I would get the hay from B&H but they won't ship it anymore without a minimum order and since I don't live on a horsefarm.... I may have to pick some up when I am in NYC in October.:D

    Seriously, this has been a helpful thread for me. Although I love the 8x10, I am still quite inexperienced with it, particularly when it comes to anything more than very basic movements. So, many thanks for the tips and observations.
     
  20. Allen Friday

    Allen Friday Member

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    I find portrait photography to over lap with architecture photography. I think one key is to keep the back of the camera vertical for a natural look.

    1) Our eyes see a building as having parallel sides (assuming it's not a Frank Gerry creation). But, we all know that if you take a fixed back camera and point it up at a skyscraper, the lines of the building will converge on the film. Our brain compensates to make the lines look parallel, the camera does not. I think the same thing happens with portraits, especially full length portraits. Our brains tell us that the subject is standing straight even when looking down from eye level, which in my case is about 5' 6" high (I'm 6' 2" tall). If I put the camera at my eye level (or the model's eye level if the model is shorter) and angle the camera down, the human form gets distorted on the film--a distortion our brains override in every day life. Consequently, as a general "rule", I try to shoot with a vertical back.

    2) For full length portraits, fashion work and nudes, I like to center the camera on the model's belly button. This is just slightly above the mid point of the body (and it follows the golden mean very nicely). I think it gives a natural look to the body without giving too much emphasis to the legs. I have the model lengthen her neck and tilt her head down to look at the top of the lens to avoid the double chin and up the nose shot. I tend to do the same for closer portraits--figure out what I want in the frame and put the camera position just slightly above center.

    3) Remember that things closer to the camera will be exaggerated on the film. I think this is part of your problem with the setting shown in the drawing. The feet are closer to the camera than the model's body and head, and therefore exaggerated. When drawing the model, the artist can use foreshortening--not really possible with a camera. I'd change the model's pose.

    Here is and interesting experiment for you to try: Photograph a mannequin or a model. Start at eye level with the camera tilted down. Take another at eye level with the camera back parallel to the standing model (use front fall to get all the model on the film). Take several more exposures moving the camera lower, until it is below waist level. Look at the final prints and decide on the most natural looking. I have done this (back when 4x5 polaroid was around), and I decided I like the look from belly button height the best. Your milage may vary.

    Another interesting thing to do is to page through magazines and books and look carefully at the photographs. Place your finger in the exact center of the photograph. If there is no obvious or deliberate distortion (less likely today than twenty years ago), then your finger is probably at the level the photographer had his or her camera.
     
  21. Mike1234

    Mike1234 Inactive

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    Don,

    We are all happy to help. We'll ask questions that you'll help us with someday.

    IMHO, 8x10 isn't any different than any other format when it comes to subject working distance and subsequent choice of lens FL with regards to filling the frame at that distance. Mathematics/physics don't lie... all you "cerebral theorists" please refrain from arguement. :smile:

    A sideways pose (or partially sideways) will also help to avoid exageration of elements closer to the lens. Closer means bigger and the shorter the lens the more distorted size relationships become. The opposite also occurs with ultra long lenses... results in perspective compression. Choosing the right lens can be a bugger especially for portraits unless you just keep in mind "working distance"... not lens FL.

    The camera isn't fooled like our brains are. Our brains automatically compensate for distortions... cameras do not. And our brains cannot compensate for distortions on two dimensional media so those distortions become apparent.

    Plant your camera at the right working distance and choose the lens to fill the frame. If you can't fill the frame then use a reducing back or just crop. Once you figure out how working distance affects distortion then you're all set.

    Did I mention working distance is the key?
     
  22. Don Wallace

    Don Wallace Member

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    Mike, I think you are right about 8x10 being no different in theory. In practise, such things as big feet are really obvious on that big glass!

    I am going to try the shot again after work today in two different ways. 1) I am going to get back a little further and expose a sheet of 8x10 with frame not quite so full, and 2) from the same position, I am going to use my 5x7 back to fill the frame and shoot a few that way.

    I am just guessing that you think working distance is very important.
     
  23. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Depends on the theory. Because you're essentially in the macro range much of the time when making a portrait in 8x10" or larger, Ron Wisner has argued that normal rules about focal length don't apply in the same way as on smaller formats. Wisner's article used to be available on the Wisner website, but I don't think that site is functioning anymore. Here's a thread discussing the Wisner article and a few more relevant points, like parallax effects as opposed to perspective--

    http://www.apug.org/forums/forum44/15090-ron-wisner-ulf-portrait-lenses.html
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 2, 2009
  24. Don Wallace

    Don Wallace Member

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    David, I have noticed that my favourite 8x10 photographers of people use lenses shorter than one would expect. As you have already pointed out, Karsh is probably the best example. When I wanted to get a portrait lens for my 8x10, I did the simple multiplication and assumed that since my favourite lens in 35mm format was a 100mm, I should get a 600mm lens. I bought a 19 inch LD Artar, which is a great lens as it turns out, but I didn't have nearly enough bellows. I think it will work on my new camera (Kodak Master View) but it doesn't have a shutter yet. Most subjects find it very hard to remain perfectly still for a second or more. If I can focus it on the KMV, I may put it into a shutter, or I may take a cheaper route and try to get my old Packard shutter working, just for portraits. In the meantime, I use it as a landscape lens with the "hat on/off/on" method.
     
  25. John Koehrer

    John Koehrer Subscriber

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    If you have a riding stable locally, you may be able to get some used hay from the owner, I understand it's much less expensive but more fragrant.
     
  26. Mike1234

    Mike1234 Inactive

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    David... You probably know this but, depending on how much extension you need, you may be able to make a "top hat" extension board to use that longer lens.